Though she would miss Landon's company, she had to admit that the first time she was alone in her new apartment-courtesy of the department-was relieving. It was a small one-bedroom on the second floor with a little balcony just off the living room. There was a TV on the wall, a coffee table, couch, even a small bookshelf with a couple of books and magazines. There were a couple of photos placed around to make it seem more personal but thankfully none were as bad as Sarah's.
They'd provided her with a cell phone but she wasn't allowed to call anyone she knew, of course, so she switched the screen off right away and tossed it on the couch. Okay, scratch that. She was actually starting to miss Landon, as serious and curt as he could be sometimes. Being utterly alone with her thoughts without a single person she could talk to was overwhelming. After tossing her options around, Jules headed to the bathroom to take a bath.
Thankfully whoever had set up her apartment had also thought to leave her some bath salts and essential oils. When her bath was drawn she stripped down and sank down into the water.
For a while, she kept her thoughts blank but eventually, they crept back to where they always did when she was alone too long: Ash. Her mind always went back to the night at the club when all she could see was the barrel of the gun and how her body had just clammed up. A part of her still didn't want to believe that he had shot at her.
It must've been an accident. Ash-her Ash-would never do that. Not the boy who had spent three years protecting her. There had been times when Ash had gotten into fights on the street with grown men because they'd looked at her the wrong way.
"Girls like you end up working the streets, Jordan." Pretty girls, he meant-though she didn't really think of herself that way except when Ash said it. Ash could make her believe it in those touches and kisses they stole in her room when Porter was drunk at the house or after school when they stopped in the alley behind the park on the way home. He was always telling her about the dangers on the street, reminding her to be careful.
And when the thought of all those monsters lurking in the shadows threatened to squeeze all the air out of her lungs-Ash would kiss it all away. "I won't let anything happen to you Jordan."
Jordan stood up and let the water drain. She wrapped a towel around herself, her movements jerky while she pushed the other memories away. The parts she didn't want to remember. Water dripped onto the hardwood as she made her way back to the hallway and into the bedroom. She had intended to check the dresser and closet first, but saw the suitcases on the floor and went to them first. The first was familiar. This was the suitcase she'd packed when she came to Sarah's. The second though… She opened it with a smile, already having a pretty good idea of what she'd find. As she expected, it was filled with carefully packed dresses and a note from Sarah.
Thought these might come in handy. Don't worry, I packed everything.
Good, because the idea of Landon touching her bras and panties was at once amusing and horrifying. She grabbed one of her oversized t-shirts, some clean underwear, and shorts to change into before unpacking everything. Cleaning up the room and getting to know what was in here gave a good way to distract herself.
A couple of hours went by rearranging things to her liking. After, she went casually to the window and closed the curtains, and turned on the TV. She didn't glance at the screen to see what was playing. Instead, she crouched down behind the couch and felt for the loose section of the baseboard. It came off with some work and opened up to a space in the wall with a manilla folder. One she had studied religiously in the past few days, but with the first meeting drawing closer she felt the itch to go over everything again.
Jules grabbed a cold soda from the fridge and settled on the couch.
Caleb Quinn. Twenty-four. Raised by a single mother, Grace Quinn, who had worked two jobs to raise her boy and nephew, Grayson Quinn, after her sister had overdosed when Grayson was only six years old. Jules could only imagine how exhausted the woman must be. And how she could find the time to still turn out two decent boys was beyond her.
But things had been rocky for a bit for Caleb as well. At sixteen, his life had taken an unexpected turn when Grace had died in a mugging on her way home from work.
Jules glanced at the details of the attack. Stab wounds to the gut. Trauma to the back of the head-probably from being pushed back with significant force. She'd likely been disoriented and weak from the blood loss. No one heard her call for help and she bled out slowly. Another victim of the rampant crime in South Brier.
After Grace passed away, Caleb had stepped up to prove himself capable of caring for himself and his cousin who was fourteen at the time. He'd gotten himself emancipated and taken custody of the boy to keep him out of the system. Jules knew better than anyone how terrible things were in South Brier and it made something warm wash over her to know that at least someone had been spared its troubles.
Caleb's grades had been good enough to get him into any college, but he'd waited two years after graduation. Two years where he struggled to steer Grayson out of trouble. It looked like Grayson had started drinking sometime after Grace's death. She supposed for a young boy who had already lost one mother, losing a second one hadn't been any easier. The courts had debated removing Grayson at one point, but Caleb had pleaded for one more chance. That was probably what woke Grayson up because his grades had gradually improved and he'd kept his nose clean after that. Grayson barely finished high school, but he did it. Jules was sure that without Caleb it likely wouldn't have happened at all.
With Grayson finally, in a good place, Caleb had started working toward a business degree at twenty in a college just outside of South Brier but only two years later he'd suddenly dropped out and returned to his hometown. In just six months, Caleb had found investors and bought the club. Between building the place and getting it all up and running, the club had only been open for about a year but it seemed to be doing very well.
Jules shuffled the papers around before going back to his college transcripts. He'd aced every class, passed every test. There was no doubt that Caleb had been on track to complete his degree in two more years. But he'd stopped. It was the one piece of his past that she didn't understand.
Why make it out of South Brier and come back?
She leaned back against the cushions and pulled her feet up to prop the file against. It was hard to imagine the man on these pages being involved with the Kings. Not when he'd fought so hard to do everything to keep Grayson out of trouble and make something of himself. But if lieutenants were spotted at the club she could imagine it was more about the Kings using the popularity of the place to blend in and avoid surveillance.
It wouldn't be a bad plan.
The club had private rooms on the second floor for VIPs-important guests or at least those with money who could pay for some privacy. The music would make it hard for any listening devices to pick up anything and anyone going up the stairs would be spotted. Likely, Caleb had no idea who he was dealing with. This wouldn't be the first time some innocent civilian got used by the wrong crowd. Or was too afraid to turn out some criminal for fear of retaliation.
Jules put the file back in its hiding place and grabbed a book off the shelf to read for a while, the questions still churning in her mind. She'd only made it halfway through the book when she dozed off. The alarm went off on her phone, reminding her that it was time to get ready.
She pulled her hair up into a ponytail and fixed it to give it some volume. With a curler, she redefined her natural waves that had gotten a little mussed up when she'd fallen asleep. It was warm tonight so she picked out a pair of black shorts and an off-the-shoulder rose crop top. Jules added on some light makeup, black heels, and some dangling silver earrings to finish it off.
Once she looked into the mirror and felt confident that Sarah would have approved, Jules grabbed her keys and headed out.
Without Sarah at her side, Jules felt incredibly self-conscious as she glanced up at the front of the club. Despite the fact that someone had been shot here not even two weeks ago, the crowd was buzzing with chaotic energy. You got this, Jules. She drew herself up and walked steadily to the front even though she knew people were likely watching her and wondering who she was to have the nerve to try to cut the line. The security almost waved her off, but she interrupted him. "Jordan Grant. Caleb was expecting me." The last part came out as more of a question. Part of her still didn't really believe he'd actually invited her.
"Of course, Ms. Grant. Go right ahead," the man's whole energy changed and he stepped out of her way, even extended a hand to help her up the steps. Huh. Well, that was nice.
She thanked him and headed inside. It was just as lively as the first time she'd been here. People are really resilient, I guess. Jules headed to the bar area in the back and searched for a mess of brown waves. It was busier than before, so she had to weave her way through to his section.
"I guess it's true that bad publicity is still good publicity. This place is packed."
Caleb turned, a satisfied smirk on his face. "People like feeling like they're part of the story. Haven't stopped having at least a dozen people order a drink from me just to get me to tell them all about it again." He called out to someone and they took over. Caleb came around and ran his fingers through his hair. "Can we talk somewhere quieter?"
"Sure?" Jules followed him toward the stairs and noticed two men in the shadows watching the area. Definitely not a place she could just sneak up to.
It was a little quieter upstairs, though the music still drifted up and she could practically feel it pulsing through the floor. The lights at least, though still bright, were less chaotic and easier on the eyes. The private rooms lined opposite walls, each of them separated by thick walls, but instead of doors there were only archways. There were curtains pulled back at each side that could easily be untied to close the room off from prying eyes if the patrons wanted more privacy. Between them was a bar and the rest of the floor was open for dancing. The fourth wall was entirely glass so that it looked out over the dance floor below.
Caleb led her into the first booth and slid in on one side. She took the other. There was something stormy about his eyes as he looked out at lights dancing across the floor.
"Is everything okay?"
He laughed then looked over at her. "You get shot, but you're asking me if I'm okay?" Caleb fixed his sleeves, pushed them up to his elbows in a way that was agitated. "I called you here to apologize."
Jules took a page from his book and looked at him wryly. "My ex shoots me, but you're the one apologizing?
"I got involved-don't get me wrong, I'd do it again-but I made the situation worse and you got shot because of me."
"Are you serious?" Jules leaned back and blinked in confusion. "My ex could've killed you! He brought a gun in here-"
"That my security should've caught."
"And shot me."
"With a gun that never should've made it in here." He clenched his hands on the table. "Two cops got in with service weapons too. We were fucking lucky they were here, but…" Jules was still trying to get over the fact that he somehow thought he was responsible for all of this. "I upgraded security in the place. People get scanned and patted down before they get in. We hired more people too. This kinda thing won't happen again."
None of that was news to her, but it confirmed what her captain had already suspected. They never would've gotten in cops unnoticed after this for surveillance.
"I called you here to say that I want to take care of your medical expenses."
Jules blinked. "What? No." Caleb was already pulling out a checkbook from inside his jacket. "Caleb-no." When Jules had run through the possible reasons Caleb would have reached out to her, this had definitely not made the list. But this was the boy who had stepped up to take care of his cousin. She supposed it made sense that he would consider this his responsibility but what he was offering was-people didn't just do this. The kind of money he was talking about...
"I-I couldn't." Caleb penned in everything except the amount and handed it to her. She stared at it stupidly. "I'm not taking this," she tried to slide it back his way, but he laid his hand over hers.
Their eyes locked together.
"Take it, it's the least I owe you. Please."
Jules looked away first. "Half. You can pay for half." Caleb opened his mouth to argue. "And you owe me three dinners."
He thought it over, rubbed his jaw. "You drive a hard bargain Jordan Grant. Deal." Caleb flashed a smile at her.